Friday, August 13, 2010

Brand theories

A few weeks ago a colleague of mine inquired about the newest thinking of how to build brands in today’s world, either for the relaunch of old brands or for the introduction of complete new brands. This very simple but important question puzzled me a bit and I realized quickly that I did not have a fast and good answer.

Over the last weeks I explored the latest trends, books, and thinking to provide a more comprehensive and powerful answer. I am not done yet but in this quest I learned a few things that seemed relevant:

  • Any recent brand literature and concepts focus stronger than ever in the past on the design element of the brand building equation. It’s not just the success of a design oriented brand like Apple but as well the need to reinvent and differentiate new brands in a very commoditized environment (e.g. Method and their uniquely designed bottles)
  • Some of the more popular recently published brand books link the definition of new or relaunched brands to classical defined archetypes (relying on Jung’s thinking about archetypes). A brand can only be successful if it is clearly identified and linked to one of the many archetypes that human beings relating to. Brands are more than ever devices that tell stories, both about themselves and the consumer buying and using the brand.
  • A lot of trade marketing articles talk about the power of consumers to launch brands but most of these articles forget that there is still always an original brand inventor who came up with the brand concept. It seems that the power of consumers are more relevant in designing the right communication architecture that any brand needs to be successfully launched, nurtured, and set up for long-term growth than in the conceptual launch phase of a brand.
  • There is a recent trend to bring in more scientific ways of understanding the impact and purpose of brands for the unconscious part of consumer’s minds. Behavioral economics and Neuro-Science have brought a fresh wave of methodologies and experiments to increase the success of newly and relaunched brands. We can expect more from these academically driven disciplines.

Today’s “practice” of brand launch and building seems to follow less two or three predefined proven concepts than a broad array of barely tested methods. This practice has entered an almost playful test ground for many different ways without one best approach. This is probably good news for all of us. I predict the discipline and practice of brand launches to oscillate stronger and stronger between heavily scientific and thoroughly tested ways (in which behavioral economics and neuro-science might play a growing role) and the power of a simple huge brand concept that was born and developed in the lonely brain of a smart person.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Network Sourcing

Over the last two years crowd sourcing has been a hot topic for a lot of marketing agencies, either positive in case of gathering more interesting ideas from a wide range of free-lancing type talent, or negative in case of clients who avoid paying high fees to agencies by using crowd-sourcing tools to get free ideas.

Interestingly enough, most marketing organizations have misunderstood and misused the concept of crowd sourcing. Instead of using the underlying philosophy and related tools to leverage the internal resources that are quite often spread across tens or hundreds of offices, they perceive it either as a cost efficient way to collect ideas or as a revenue threatening danger utilized by clients. The real power of crowd sourcing can be leveraged when it is understood as network-sourcing to truly build a globally connected organization. This requires a few ingredients:

  • Put a clear brief, tight timeline, and a democratic evaluation system in the center of the network sourcing assignment that is distributed to a manageable number of people in the organization’s network. More is not always better.
  • Balance the drive for great ideas with the benefit of utilizing network sourcing as a tool to virtually bring together a normally poorly connected network of physically separated offices. Network-sourcing is both about idea generation and building a connected organization.
  • Celebrate the winning ideas in a public forum to show the power of the marketing agency as an exciting virtual network that is better than just the sum of all the different global locations
  • Slowly learn of how this “Closed loop network” can be opened up to some external players without diminishing the focus on the integrating powers of the network-sourcing

The principles of crowd-sourcing will become increasingly a strong approach of how to join large marketing organizations together against one common challenge and brief without the high travel and communication costs and frictions that we have been used to.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Decision Making

People who have followed this blog over the last years know my passion for understanding of how consumers make decision. That’s why it’s nice to see that Stuart Elliott from the New York Times shows interest and respect for some of the work that I am part. Read his comments in today’s New York Times.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cannes 2010

This year’s largest Marketing and Advertising festival in Cannes was once again well visited and showed the largest amounts of submissions from all over the world than ever before. The Cannes festival demonstrated an interesting mix of the usual stereotypical behaviors of people in the industry - young marketers partying hard until the early mornings, scam ads that will never die, and huge egos that can barely walk- with inspiring moments of dialog and presentations from people like Spike Jones who said when asked how much he would need to be paid for a trip to New Zealand: “If you have a good idea, I will sleep on your couch”.

The event allowed for a few interesting observations:

  • Marketers are hungry to learn: Every single seminar was packed with a minimum numbers of 800 visitors. Marketers, young and old, really come to Cannes to see what their peers have to say and hopefully go back to your respective work areas with some true insights and learning. The hunger for structural solutions of how to deal with our complex marketing world and the interest in big personalities ensured that the seminars were the center piece of Cannes, not necessarily the award shows.
  • The majority of agencies are still confused: I saw a few agency presentations; most of them have not developed their unique point of view on the industry over the last years. Worse, quite a few agencies seem to be totally lost in a mixture of thought fragments like “Technology is great”, “The consumer wants immediate gratification”, to “The idea still wins” without a comprehensive world view of how their agency is attacking today’s challenges. If I were a client, I would be worried.
  • The creative quality is very strong: Walking around on the lower level of the palais and studying the different lion’s winner, one has to admit that there is a lot of outstanding, smart, and well produced work, independent of category. It’s exiting and sometimes humbling to see the wealth of great ideas and concepts from all over the world.

The largest gathering of marketers anywhere in the world is always a special, weird, and relevant place to experience. Cannes is definitely an event that one can make jokes about with a lot of good reasons but it remains a powerful and important experience that everyone in our industry should witness at least once.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Cognitive surplus

This months WIRED magazine has a short but enlightening discussion between Daniel Pink (WIRED contributing editor and author of “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”) and Clay Shirky (author of the upcoming book “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a connected Age”). They discuss the concept of “Cognitive Surplus” that occurs when people stop being passive media consumer and start creating things that benefit the community and/or their personal lives. Both believe that the ever rising TV consumption hinders people on expressing themselves in any kind of creative form that would beneficial for their communities and themselves. While their arguments and thinking is not necessarily new, their framing of the opportunity is fascinating.

Shirky builds the connection between the positively used free time (when people stop watching as much TV) as a vast reservoir of life changing power and people’s intrinsic motivation of creating things. He claims that most people are not motivated by external factors (e.g. money) but by internal factors that drive their own personal satisfaction. People like putting puzzles together in their free time but if you start paying them, they quickly loose interest.

The cognitive surplus exists if one connects the creatively usable free time of lots of people and put them to use for either something valuable or just enjoyable. Pink and Shirky like to use Wikipedia or Linux as one of the best examples that used cognitive surplus in a positive manner. All of Wikipedia’s work represents over 100 million hours of human labor which seems at first glance a lot but not if you consider that someone born in 1960 will have watched already 50,000 hours of TV alone.

I am not as optimistic as Pink and Shirky in regards to a perceived trends of people moving from passively absorbing to actively engaging but the opportunities to not just create more cognitive surplus but using it, too, is a demanding and challenging one. Every for profit organization has latent “cognitive surplus” that could be utilized, not only for the company’s benefit but for the employees benefit, too. Successful companies in the future will rely strongly on allowing for “cognitive surplus” by providing space and connecting people’s individual “cognitive surplus”. This is not a zero sum game, it’s a one plus game.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Impression Economy

Over the last years, the decline of the print business forced the emergence of new business models to align journalist compensations with the brutal truth of their poor publication’s financial situation. An emerging trend seems to be the alignment of journalist’s payments with traffic to their published articles, thereby establishing a very transparent performance metrics system that is rather unusual for large scale organizations and highly educated employees. The number of impressions that a particular article generates determines the compensation that the journalist is receiving. This will definitely lower the average pay for journalists and motivate them to produce primarily traffic generating articles. And it could seriously threaten longer research centric articles and pieces.

But this posting is not trying to engage in the already very heated and difficult discussion but rather explore of how this “Impression economy” (that might be soon the dominant business model in journalism) could have impact on other industries and influence their business models. At minimum this “Impressions economy” could be adapted within the marketing and media industry and for parts of any retail based business that requires physical or virtual traffic.

The key factors of how successful this “Impression Economy” could be will rely on two critical elements:

  • Impression is a rather crude metrics that does not account for the quality of impression. Recent engagement studies try to better understand the different impact of various impressions on consumers and readers. A high engagement impression could have a value of 10 or 20 low engagement impressions. Any expansion of the Impression economy will require smarter, easier, and scalable metrics systems that connect impression with engagement without creating too much complexity. The beauty of impressions is its real time simplicity that can’t be lost.
  • Any seemingly inefficient industry where overall business performance could benefit from a better linkeage of individual versus collective performance and thereby reward high performing employees while reducing they pay for lower performing ones. Journalists were the first to hit by the downward pressure of their compensation because of the high cost pressure on newsrooms and publications. They were perceived as highly inefficient organizations with little to no accountability or smart performance measures. Robert Murdoch famously complained about the fact that every Wall Street article will be reviewed and edited by over 8 journalists before final publications (This has now changed since he bought the newspaper but I have not been able to find the new “improved” number).

One nightmare scenario of the “Impression Economy: is that the middle class of well but not very high paid earners could disappear, since only a few people have the talent or luck to attract a high volume of impressions, most people’s impression would play at the end of the long tail and therefore they would only earn a small compensation.

Compensation would not look anymore like a organizational pyramid but like a wine decanter with a few high earners while 95% of all earners would earn close to minimum wages in this “Impression economy”. The optimist would suggest that there will be a rise of “Impression co-operations” that would allow a broader base of people to earn a decent living. The “Impression Economy” might not expand beyond the realm of journalism but we better be ready to understand its underlying mechanics and consequences.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Application Marketing

Applications are currently the hottest marketing device that brand marketers and agencies are discussing at their still exsiting business luncheons and dinners. They love discuss what kind of iPhone application should a particular brand develop? Or don’t we need to launch a widget that will be heavily used by our core customer group and which can then be leveraged as the biggest word-to-mouth vehicle since “The Blair Witch project”?

I think this whole discussion misses the most critical and insightful point. In most cases it is less about developing new applications than transforming the majority of all other marketing vehicles and programs into something that closer resembles an application. What does this mean?

The definition of an application (grounded in the software world) goes like: “An application is a computer software designed to help the user to perform singular or multiple related specific tasks”. Translating this into the marketing universe I suggest a few additional elements of what defines “application-ness”, what makes an application an application:

  • Control: The application allows the consumer to have full control of when to use the application. The usage is always determined by the consumer not the brand or the schedule of a media company
  • Interactivity: There is some level of interaction between user and application that does not lead necessarily to any level of personalization but it allows to millions of different usage paths between consumer and application
  • Service: Most importantly the application provides a perceived service benefit to the consumer (yes, the vacuum cleaner or a mixer is an application).
  • Ease of use: The application is making something easier that was previously more difficult, it can relate to one or many tasks, it can make something much more or just slightly easier.

I believe that today’s marketer’s job is much more about making every marketing interaction and program, from TV spot to Display banner or Search term, more application like. This job is more important than creating new isolated applications for in most cases just Apple’s large world of devices. A TV spot that can live outside of a programmed TV schedule and that provides some longer lasting opportunities of interactivity or a display ad that does not lead to the usual microsite but that has some level of targeted interactivity integrates components of application-ness. Ultimately the best modern marketing will become more and more like a service to the consumer that makes something just easier, more interesting, more entertaining, in short: more like an application.